Gatepost Interview: Rita Colucci Chief of Staff, General Counsel and Secretary to the Board

What’s your educational background and career history?

I’ve been at Framingham State for 10 years. I came in as the Human Resources director, and then became the chief of staff and general counsel and secretary to the board after about four years. I started out my career as a labor lawyer working for the MBTA – my legal career, I should say – and from there, my jobs kind of built on that as that basic foundation of being a labor lawyer, so I went into human resources. I’ve always worked in the public sector, and then I got into higher ed when I came here. I’ve always loved it. … I went to Southern Connecticut State University. I graduated with a degree in political science – a major in political science and a minor in English. Then I went to law school at the New England School of Law, which is in Boston.

What has been your greatest accomplishment at FSU?

There’s a lot of things I’ve worked on that I’ve really, really enjoyed. One of the things I’ve been involved with that I’m really glad I was able to work on and proud of how far the University has come is our efforts in diversity and inclusion. When I came to Framingham State in 2007, the campus was very different. We had a much less diverse student body and a much less diverse faculty and staff. Our numbers have really changed, but what has also really changed is the kind of programming we have around diversity issues.

How do you think you’ve contributed to diversity on campus?

Early, back in 2008, we had what we called then the Diversity Committee, and I was always an active member. We later changed our name to the Committee on Diversity and Inclusion, and that’s actually changed again to the Council on Diversity and Inclusion. So, I’ve always been active on that front, but also since I became the University’s attorney, I’ve been really lucky to have been involved with a lot of different matters. That’s actually one of the really nice things about being a lawyer – particularly in higher ed where you’re the only one. You’re very much a generalist, so I’ve had exposure to so many different things going on on campus. In addition to my role as general counsel and also chief of staff, for instance, last year, I worked on the State Committe along with Judy Otto, who’s a professor in our geography department. We worked with the committee. We worked with task forces. We also worked with an outside consultant. We were able to write a new strategic plan for the University. That was really fun to work on, really exciting to be a part of. … The University has grown so much, but not only in the areas of diversity and inclusion. I feel like when I came in ’07, we were this sleepy little college. We weren’t really that little, but we were a little bit sleepy. And now, I feel like there’s so much going on.

Is there anything you hope your successor accomplishes that you weren’t able to during your time here?

So much. I envy my replacement because they will be walking into a situation where they will have really great colleagues and into a university that’s really well run and that has just really great people. One of the nice things about my job is that it was so varied. But that was also its challenge, because I never felt like I could really be a really good lawyer for the school because I was juggling these other responsibilities. I never felt like I was a really good secretary to the board because I was trying to sneak the legal stuff in. Same with the chief of staff, like, “Oh, I wish I could have time to do more work on that front.” I’m hoping that my successor is able to manage it all, and maybe be more proactive, particularly on some legal matters where I was not able to be as proactive as I would’ve liked, but maybe they will be. We’ll see.

What advice would you give to your successor?

You really want to be aware of the culture of the organization. Things are done differently in higher ed. If my successor doesn’t come out of higher ed, I think there’s going to be a little bit of a learning curve for them, just them acclimating to how things work at a university. That may take some getting used to. I would just say take your time and don’t feel like you have to have all the answers. People here are very kind. If you say “I don’t know, I need to figure it out,” or “I need to talk about it,” people are always willing to work with you to come to the answer.

Do you have any advice for students?

It does help to be smart, but what’s going to make the difference for you in your lives and your careers is how hard you work and how much of an effort you put toward things. So, I would encourage students to work really hard and to do something they like to do. Study what you like to study. Study what you’re good at, because if you’re going to make it into a career, you might as well really like it. Don’t get discouraged by setbacks – everyone has setbacks. Just keep your eye on your goal. I honestly believe if a student works really hard toward getting something, it will pan out for them.

What will you miss about FSU?

Hands down, I will miss all its wonderful people. … That includes all my colleagues, but also the students. I’ve taught Foundations for the past seven years, and I also have students that work in my office. I’ve been fortunate enough to really get to know some of our students. … I have students that keep in touch with me, and I’m so glad when I get an email from them. … I’ve just plain old made a lot of good friends here, so it’s hard to leave my friends.

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